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Gang Homicide In Echo Park: 18-Year-Old Cesar Guerrero 'Could Have Just Stayed Home For Christmas'

Updated after the jump: Is Echo Park the new Venice -- where art meets crime? The Weekly asks the gentrification question; police officers and a bar manager weigh in. Originally posted at 11:58 a.m.

Here's one thing AOL Patch could be great for, and certainly was in Echo Park this Christmas: documenting the countless gang-related murders that fly under the radar of mainstream media while the homicides of white-collar (and just plain white) victims like celebrity publicist Ronni Chasen get all the airtime. We're often guilty of the same.

Unfortunately, there's no Patch branch in Watts, Inglewood or any other part of gang-ridden South L.A. Otherwise, Kevin Wooten's Christmas Day murder might have seen some light.

But it happened to be "gentrified" Echo Park that hosted a fatal gang shoot-out this Christmas --

one that left 18-year-old Bell Gardens resident and older brother of three Cesar Guerrero dead in the back of a car on Baxter Street.

Echo Park Patch spoke with Guerrero's father about how his son had come to find himself in such a dangerous situation.

"He was hard-headed. We butted heads many times about him being in gangs. I kept telling him, it leads to nothing," said the elder Guerrero, who was waiting with huddling family members and friends at the corner of Baxter and Echo Park Avenue in the late afternoon waiting for his son's body to be taken from the scene. "I told him about his boys, his homies or whatever-where are they now? They could have taken him to hospital, gotten some help ... no. They ran away and left him to die."

His grandmother then told Patch about a false sense of hope she'd felt before the murder.

Maria De Los Santos of Bell Gardens, the grandmother of Caesar Guerrero, said that while her grandson ran with the wrong crowd, he had started talking about getting a job and making an effort to turn things around after Christmas.

"He was talking about going to school," she said. "He was just a kid. He deserved to live. I deserve to have great-grandchildren. I deserve to have a grandson. This is so terrible."

The elder Guerrero had a similar notion -- that his son might have begun to emerge from a childhood of crime.

"He was good at math," he said of Caesar Guerrero. "When he was younger, he got into all kinds of trouble. He was in and out of juvie. We left this neighborhood two years ago. I never thought he'd still be coming around here."

Lastly, the family focuses on their three remaining boys.

With his oldest son gone, the father said he now must turn his attention to Caesar Guerrero's three younger brothers.

"They are nothing like this. They're into video games and other stuff. I have to tell them that their brother is gone," he said.

City News Service reports that the fight broke out just before noon between pedestrians and some males in a white Honda Civic at 1300 West Sunset Blvd., near Dodger stadium.

Aside from Guerrero, who was found dead in the Honda, three more victims were taken to County USC Medical Center. So far, all are reported as still breathing; however, according to witnesses, one more wounded person was whisked away by a car heading north.

The Patch profile ends with a heartbreaking quote from Guerrero's father: "He could have just stayed home. He could have just stayed home for Christmas."

Here's to you, WalMart of news, for a job well done. And on Christmas Day, no less.

Most importantly: R.I.P. Cesar Guerrero.

Update: Echo Park has been attracting oodles of good press lately -- especially from the Los Angeles Times -- detailing the influx of non-gang-friendly Stuff White People Like, such as squeaky clean girl bands and hot young bars for hot young people.

In the now-infamous Dec. 3 Times article "Echo Park evolves into hipster destination," Jessica Gelt wrote:

Changes to the area have reached a tipping point in the last two years as a new wave of upscale destinations opened their doors to the area's ever-increasing population of artists, musicians and loafers.

Aside from today's tragic cover story, Echo Park Patch is very much a testament to the Times' homeys-to-hipsters epic. There's the recording studio with the trendy upstairs pinball area, the budding yoga scene and the chick that sells pies from her apartment.

The Times' gentrification piece may have been the blindfolded work of elitists, but it's right about one thing: Echo Park is the latest L.A. target for arty twenty- and thirtysomethings, too hip for Hollywood and wanting to feel like they live on the cutting edge of melting-pot urbanity.

Where the Times, trendsters and local entrepreneurs may have assumed wrong, though, is that this ex-hotbed for gang activity has made a real transition since the yuppies moved in next door.

Just over a week ago, a gang shooting at West Sunset Boulevard and Everett Street left two men with gunshot wounds -- one to the head. The suspected shooter was tracked down at Best Way Hand Car Wash. Back in July, one man was killed and another wounded in an apparent robbery shooting at a Sunset Boulevard pot shop.

All those crimes took place within blocks of the Christmas Day gang shoot-out that took Cesar Guerrera's life.

As Guerrera's father mentioned, his family moved out of Echo Park two years ago -- presumably in search of a healthier environment in which to raise his children. But his eldest son and the other gang members were drawn back to what seems to be the root locale of a longtime feud: an Echo Park neighborhood still teeming with violence.

Terril Johnson, general manager of the Short Stop -- one of the bars that made a cameo in the Times piece (indeed: "We're getting a lot more USC kids, outside neighborhood kids") -- says he noticed the cops had blocked off a crime scene while driving home on Christmas Day.

Johnson says it did seem strange, so soon after the marijuana dispensary shooting, to hear of a brutal homicide so close to his business, which is located at 1455 West Sunset Boulevard.

"Yeah, it does seem like there's a spike," he says. "But from inside the bar, we don't really see that. ... We just hear that, you know, so-and-so's friend was stabbed coming out of the Gold Room one night."

Echo Park is patrolled by two different LAPD divisions: Northeast and Rampart, located north and south of Sunset Boulevard, respectively. An officer from the former tells the Weekly that on the whole, gang crimes are down in Echo Park (as are homicides across L.A. County), but an officer from the latter says that he's still noticing a strong presence of gangs in the area. And where there are gangs, there is bound to be violence.

The officer in charge of tracking Rampart crime on a larger scale is out of the office, but we'll bug him until we get something. Until then, tell us yourself: Do you live in Echo Park? What's your take on the crime scene?


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